Mars and the Search for Life

By Elaine Scott
(Clarion Books, Hardcover, 9780618766956, 64pp.)

Publication Date: October 2008

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Description

Despite the fondest desires of science fiction fans, everyone knows Mars isn't inhabited by little green men. In fact, Mars is a desolate, hostile world, with unbearably cold temperatures, no atmosphere to speak of, and violent dust storms. But could there ever have been life there, in some form? And if so, what happened to it? And could life exist there again one day? Maybe even human life? Elaine Scott takes readers on a journey through history and space and then into an exciting future as she explores the growing body of evidence that water---and therefore the potential for life---was present on Mars at one time. Even more titillating, the possibility of human habitation now hovers on the horizon, maybe within the next 30 years---an exciting prospect for young readers, some of whom may be among those first colonists.




About the Author

Elaine Scott, a veteran nonfiction writer, is often praised for making complicated scientific concepts accessible for young readers. She is the author of When Is a Planet Not a Planet? The Story of Pluto, among many other books. She lives in Houston, Texas.




Praise For Mars and the Search for Life

"Getting closer looks at Mars has long been both an alluring goal of the U.S. space program and one of its most spectacular technological achievements.  Here Scott recaps the progress thus far, from the invention of the telescope tot he Phoenix Mars mission that, she notes, made a successful landing just as her report was going to pass.  Along with a fine array of large, composite space images, surface-level photographs and digital paintings that include pictures of all the probes currently orbiting the Red Planet, she enhances her summary of each mission's achievements and findings with a diagram that identifies every scientific instrument aboard the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.  The text tantalizes readers with closing profiles of upcoming Mars ventures and a quick glimpse of current efforts to reproduce Martian living conditions on this planet.  Readers will come away with both a coherent historical overview and a heady sense that we are on the verge of some epoch-making discoveries."--Kirkus Reviews "Scott, who so ably handled Pluto’s recent identity crisis (When Is a Planet Not a Planet?, BCCB 10/07), now turns to Earth’s mysterious next-door neighbor to discuss the Marks Exploration Rover (MER) and tantalizing findings that suggest that conditions on the red planet may once have been hospitable to life.  She begins with our fascination with the possibility of extraterrestrial life—both H.G. Wells’ and Orson Welles’ panic-inducing War of the Worlds, Schiaparelli’s mistranslated observation of Martian “canals,” and Percival Lowell’s popularization of the idea of intelligent Martian beings.  Narrowing the focus to the presence or absence of water, a precondition for life as we recognize it, she discusses early reconnaissance of Mars that led directly to the 2003 launch of the exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity.  Not only do readers learn about evidence they uncovered that water did in fact exist on mars, but also about how mission landing sites and launch times were determined, and how the scientific instruments mounted on the rovers were selected.  Sidebar information ranges from the predictably useful (Martian gravity and time) to the outright quirky (piece of the World Trade Center wreckage were incorporated into the Rock Abrasion Tool; items ranging from dropped bolts to a lost glove now orbit the Earth as space junk.)  With the exception of a dismally cheesy painting of a Neanderthal clan during a Martian perigee, illustrations are arresting and clearly captioned.  Reports of Martian snowfall from the more recent Phoenix mission may have stolen some of MER’s wind, but the little rovers-who-could, which keep chugging along the planetary surface years beyond their original ninety-day mission, are still transmitting data that should keep labs hopping—and kids reading—for some time to come.  An index, glossary, and print and online resources are included."--The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books "This simply designed, handsomely photographed book traces the history of earthlings’ biggest crush, the planet Mars.  Mars has always held a special place in our collective imaginations, with the term Martian becoming nearly synonymous with extraterrestrial life.  Scott opens with an account of Orson Welles’ panic-inspiring radio performance of H.G. Wells; The War of the Worlds, before moving into the real-life scientific inquiry into the possibility of life on Mars.  Integral to life is water in liquid form, and the author does an admirable job of framing the question of whether or not there is or ever was water on Mars as the central argument around which much of the speculation and study of extraterrestrial life has revolved.  Some readers may be inclined to skip the drier details of launches and spaceflight, but there won't be many who aren't fascinated by images and accounts of the rovers tooling around Mars taking pictures, or the increasingly real possibility of manned exploration of the Red Planet."--Booklist
 "Scott traces the history of our fascination with the possibility of life on Mars, from the earliest misinterpretations of canal-like features to present-day planning for possible human missions to the planet.  The majority of the coverage is on the successes, including the recent rover missions that have collected extensive photographic and analytic data of Mars surface features and composition.  Scott explains in detail how the various geologic findings could serve as evidence for the presence of water on Mars, which could theoretically mean that the planet once had the conditions necessary to harbor life.  Additional attention is focused on the technological challenges of designing and launching spacecraft capable of making it to Mars intact.  Abundant color, color-enhanced, and black-and-white images give readers a real feel for the Martian surface, and artistic renderings illustrate current and future technologies that get spacecraft to Mars—and someday, hopefully, back to Earth again."--The Horn Book 
"A well-researched examination of our fascinating relationship with the Red Planet, and of the possibility of life (intelligent or otherwise) existing (or having existed) in its stark, rugged landscapes.  Beginning with Orson Wells’s famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast on October 30, 1938, Scott’s readable and informational text follows the history of our speculations, from Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell’s “canals” to the Mariner flybys, the Viking landings, and a busy stable of rovers.  Deductions made from detailed photos and a variety of experiments conducted on the surface are discussed, as are the practical steps of choosing a landing site, not to mention the engineering feats of designing a launch vehicle, a spaceship, and a mechanism that will not only survive being dropped from space to an unforgiving surface, but one that will actually work after impact.  Color photos, illustrations, and diagrams liberally dot the oversize pages, themselves colored like a Martian landscape-pale rusty orange fading to a gray-tinged “sky.”  Sidebars offer information on such topics as “Refracting vs. Reflecting,” “Mars Time,” and “Satellites Orbiting Mars.”  Teamed with such titles as the simpler, straightforward Mars (World Book, 2007) and Gloria Skurzynski’s intriguing Are We Alone?: Scientists Search for Life in Space (National Geographic, 2004), this clearly written, carefully constructed book will shine like the Red Planet seen on a clear, moonless night."--School Library Journal, starred review

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